Recently Colorado’s Cory Gardner and several other senators and representatives launched the new Republican Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, invoking the name of our nation’s first conservationist, President Theodore Roosevelt.

Gardner proudly announced to Coloradans that he would work hard to make sure that the next generation inherits an environment far better than the one we have now. 

Sportsmen and -women reading this announcement couldn’t help but notice the difference between Gardner’s talk and his walk. 

Tai Jacober

His words of “strong leadership and conservation and environmental stewardship” ignore a lackluster record on public land protection.  Gardner has notably avoided sponsorship of the CORE Act, a public lands bill, which among other things would protect the Thompson Divide, one of western Colorado’s most spectacular landscapes. Ironically, this place that Gardner chooses not to protect was one of Roosevelt’s favorite spots.

After a month-long hunting excursion on horseback in the Thompson Divide he exalted the area as “a great, wild country … where the mountains crowded together in chain, peak, and tableland,” in his personal journals. Roosevelt would be pleased that more than 100 years later, the rugged, pristine character of the Thompson Divide remains largely intact and would still be a great place for him to hunt.

So, one wonders why, with Gardner gushing conservation values to voters who care deeply for public lands, he would not want to protect a beloved place of the original “Roosevelt Republican” whose name and reputation he and his colleagues use to showcase their “conservation caucus.”

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Close inspection of the Divide reveals critical grazing lands, outstanding recreation opportunities, and the excellent wildlife habitat that Roosevelt loved. The prospect of new drilling threatens these values.

To ensure the continued viability of values that drive our local economies, the CORE Act would permanently halt new oil and gas leasing on 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide area.

Oil and gas development in the Thompson Divide threatens the other uses, including the ranching and recreation that our local economies rely on so heavily. Most importantly, the communities most impacted by management of the Divide support a permanent mineral withdrawal in the area. So why isn’t Sen. Gardner standing behind his constituents on this issue? 

His hesitancy to protect the Divide may be explained by public records of campaign financing for his 2020 re-election bid.  Sen. Gardner accepted significant contributions from PACs for ExxonMobil, Alliance Coal, Arch Coal, Chevron, Murray Energy, Duke Energy, Anadarko, Whiting Petroleum and the industry group Western Energy Alliance.

When they conflict with his ties to oil and gas, Sen. Gardner’s affinity for Roosevelt’s pro-conservation values seem to take second place.

For the record, here’s what the Republican Conservation Caucus’ namesake said in a now-famous 1908 speech about energy development on our nation’s most pristine public lands:

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

Roosevelt spoke and most importantly, acted with great passion about “conservation as a national duty.” In contrast, Sen. Gardner has voted against the environment “85%” of the time. 

All of this is not intended to cause offense, but to clear the obfuscated air.

Cory and other members of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus: You can’t have it both ways. You cannot say you care about conservation and the environment and not speak out about the president’s “Energy Dominance” agenda, which is rampantly and unnecessarily expanding drilling operations at the expense of public health and wildlife protections.

While you certainly have the right to support this most harmful dismantling of public lands protections and rollbacks of environmental regulations in memory, please don’t insult Theodore Roosevelt, a sportsperson’s hero, while you do it.

If, on the other hand, you want to live up to the great legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, you could start by protecting some of the public lands he cared for so dearly, like the Thompson Divide.

Tai Jacober is a Thompson Divide hunter and rancher. He owns, and lives with his wife and two children at, Avalanche Ranch, a guest ranch with cabins and hot springs at the base of the Thompson Divide.

Special to The Colorado Sun